The Times September 19, 2006

Need a stamp? Now you can print one on your home computer
By Marcus Leroux

ROYAL MAIL has introduced an internet service that could send stamps to the great wastepaper basket of history, heralding a black day for philatelists.

From today customers can pay for postage on the internet and print a unique bar code directly on to envelopes or labels, instead of using conventional stamps. Royal Mail says the move is one of the most significant changes to the postal system in the 166 years since the introduction of the Penny Black. But stamp collectors gave the online service a frosty reception, with some lamenting another nail in the coffin of the postal system as we know it.

John Moody, of Gibbons Stamp Monthly magazine, said: “This is the beginning of the end for stamps, but it’ll be a long time before we will see post offices stopping selling them.” He added: “The labels and print-offs are awful and not collectable. It’s not good news for stamp collectors.”

Michael Pitt-Payne, a fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society, said that the new scheme was part of a progression towards prepaid mail, but that a barcode could not have the allure that attracted countless schoolboys to stamp collecting.

“It will not have the same aesthetic appeal. You’re losing some of the inherent qualities of stamps — the Queen’s head and the colour, for instance,” he said.

Alex Batchelor, marketing director at Royal Mail, said: “We have introduced this service in response to demands from the general public who want to be able to buy and print their postage online, directly on to an envelope or a label.

“Online postage gives customers more flexibility in the way they pay to send their mail. The service is perfect for busy people, but it is also aimed at home workers who regularly post small quantities of mail, as well as people who sell goods via auction websites.”

Customers pay for their postage on the Royal Mail website by selecting the appropriate amount for their letter or parcel, and paying by debit or credit card or via a prepay account. A unique barcode is then printed directly on to envelopes, labels or paper before posting in the normal way.

The price of postage using the online system is the same as when stamps are used and customers can also print out a variety of forms online, including a certificate of posting and customs forms for international postings.

The online service comes only weeks after the Post Office introduced a new system for sending items that is based on the size, as well as the weight, of letters and parcels.